08 March 2011
The ampersand or "&" is a curious thing in our language that dates back to the 1st century A.D.
Originally, it was a ligature of the letters E and T.
What's a ligature? In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes are joined as a single glyph. Ligatures usually replace consecutive characters sharing common components.
Suffice it to say, the ampersand is the most common one we use in English.
"Et" is Latin for "and" - as in et cetera, which is such a mouthful that we feel the need to shorten even that to etc. It can actually be further shortened as &c.
I suppose if you look closely at the modern ampersand, you can still see the E and T hiding in there depending on the font. (Try Trebuchet MS.)
It is so commonly used that it is now considered more of a logogram than a ligature.
Is it a letter? No.
The dollar sign, $, is another possible ligature/logogram. One theory is that it came from a ligature used for "pesos" and the Spanish peseta, but that's not for sure.
The word ampersand itself is a conflation of the phrase "and per se and" which has the crazy meaning of "and [the symbol which] by itself [is] and." That's pretty bizarre.
The ampersand is one thing I was never able to make with a pen. Mine always looked like little pretzels. Start at the bottom right corner, make a line up and to the left or reverse a 3 with a dash through it, from top to bottom twice. Far easier just to hit Shift-7.
All this pondering on ampersands came from a curious little book by the wonderfully odd author Craig Conley titled Ampersand.